As he closed in on victory in Bahrain, Charles Leclerc played on past heartbreak at the same venue to give Ferrari a scare.
The Scuderia went into the 2022 season hoping for victories and a title challenge, and already after round one the first part of that mission has been accomplished after Leclerc won the Bahrain Grand Prix.
That was his first win in Bahrain, but it would have been his second if fate had not been so cruel three years ago when an engine issue forced him to drop from the lead of the 2019 Bahrain GP and ultimately finish third.
This time around there were no such dramas, or at least Leclerc knew that. On the last lap of the race, his Ferrari crew were not so sure.
“I did a bit of a joke on the radio on the last lap, saying there was something strange with the engine,” he told Sky Sports F1.
“And the engineers I’m pretty sure didn’t like that. But it was fun. I had that in mind for the last 10 or 15 laps of the race, hoping there were no reliability issues.
“And obviously then I see Max [Verstappen] had the issue, I was like ‘come on, please stay with me until the end’ and it did, so it’s great.”
— Oracle Red Bull Racing (@redbullracing) March 20, 2022
As Leclerc alluded to, Red Bull’s Verstappen was running P2 heading into the final few laps but having already reported a steering issue, his situation soon grew far more severe.
The Safety Car had been out to cover Pierre Gasly’s stricken AlphaTauri, but as a panicking Verstappen returned to the radio after the race restart he soon slowed and was forced to retire with a suspected fuel pump issue.
Verstappen’s team-mate Sergio Perez then retired on the last lap, his RB18 spinning and shutting down coming out of Turn 1.
But even if Verstappen had not been fighting those ailments, Leclerc felt he had the restart under control.
Asked if a trouble-free Verstappen could have passed him at the restart, Leclerc replied: “I don’t think so. At the restart I think I did a really good restart, so anyway I think it would have been difficult for him to overtake.
“And after that the rhythm was very strong, so whenever I had margin I knew I could more or less manage the gap behind.
“But obviously it has been tricky whenever there was this battle on track.”
The duo had put on a thrilling battle earlier in the race after their first stops, the lead swapping between Leclerc and Verstappen on several occasions before Leclerc ultimately won out and created a gap.
So while he will always remember his “very special” Monza win in 2019 as a career highlight, Leclerc felt this Bahrain victory demonstrated his growth as a driver.
“A victory is always very special and I definitely feel much grown as a driver compared to my victory in 2019,” he said.
“2019 felt incredible obviously at Monza, it was just very very special, but here today everything felt a bit more under control and it felt nice.
“Obviously there were some very tense moments on track with Max after the first stop, with the Safety Car restart after that, but everything was managed well and I could bring the victory home.”
Carlos Sainz crossed the line behind Leclerc to make it a Ferrari one-two.